What Chronic Pain Does to Your Brain Over Time
Chronic pain can affect every aspect of a person’s life, including their activity levels, ability to work, emotional state, and personal relationships. While these negative effects can be fairly obvious, what can go unseen is what chronic pain does to your brain.
Mounting evidence suggests that chronic pain leads to alterations in brain structure and function, particularly in areas of the brain that relate to emotional and cognitive function. That is why people suffering from chronic pain can experience faulty memory, fuzzy thinking, lack of motivation, lack of enjoyment, depression, and anxiety.
The Effects of Chronic Pain on the Brain
Chronic pain doesn’t affect just one brain region; it has been shown to cause changes in multiple important regions that control critical functions and processes. Of particular importance are the hippocampus and the bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
As part of the brain’s limbic system, the hippocampus helps regulate emotional responses to situations. Specifically, it is believed to be responsible for the formation of new memories and spatial processing (your brain’s ability to map the layout of your environment). Studies show that those experiencing chronic pain had significantly less hippocampal volume, which could explain increased anxiety and learning and memory problems.
Other types of chronic pain, particularly low back pain, have been shown to decrease grey matter in the bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). This area in the front of the brain is responsible for executive functions, such as the ability to recall past events and use that information in similar present situations, and the ability to assess your actions and adjust them based on the outcomes. A 2011 Journal of Neuroscience study found that, although the decreased DLPFC did not affect people’s ability to complete tasks, it did alter how the brain reacted when faced with a challenge. Those experiencing chronic pain had to use more of their brains to complete a task, meaning the pain made it more difficult for the brain to process information and solve problems.
The good news is that research suggests these changes are not permanent and can be reversed when patients receive effective treatment for their conditions. These treatments should go beyond mere pain management and seek to uncover and treat the underlying cause of the pain.
Find Relief from Chronic Pain at Anchor Wellness Center
Dr. Minni Malhotra, MD, FAARM, ABAARM, understands what chronic pain does to the brain and why it is so important for patients to find relief. As a Board Certified physician in Family Medicine as well as Board Certified with the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine, Dr. Malhotra won’t just treat your pain, but will uncover and treat its underlying cause.
Call us today at (832) 246-8437 to schedule a consultation and address your chronic pain.